Bang Zoom says anime is going to die -- is it true?


[Update: I've added a corollary talking about DVD pricing here in the US. It's an important addition to this debate. --Brad]

Many of you may have heard already, but just in case you haven't: Bang Zoom's CEO, Eric Sherman, is ringing the death bell on anime here in the US with his piece entitled "Anime - RIP." It's stirred up a lot of people to say a lot of things, and naturally I'm going to take my stab at it.

Bang Zoom, for those of you who don't know, is a dubbing studio that handles a lot of titles for Bandai, did Geneon's stuff, and does a lot of West Coast recording. In this piece, Sherman is saying that anime fans and their "urge to get their fix illegally" is what is going to cause the death of the industry.

This debate could easily stretch over to the Japanese market as well, which would be a whole basket of worms that I'm not looking to get into today, even though the two markets and the changes needed are closely intertwined. Today, let's just focus on the American market and what needs to be done over here.

When people talk about illegal downloading, as Sherman did here, I don't necessarily think he's talking about fansubs of unlicensed, unstreamed material. If you poke around online, there are an innumerable number of torrents and downloads available for properties that are already available here in the US. Everything from the first season of Higurashi with dual audio to the latest episode of Naruto Shippuden.

The problem here is that these things are easily available, and people just go ahead and download them. This is terribly problematic because, unlike the music scene, we're a very small niche community, and the great majority of the fanbase is hip to how the whole fansub business works. Plus, there is only a single product here that's at stake. With music, you have a number of ways of generating revenue: radio play, CD sales, concerts, promotional goods, etc. With anime, especially anime here in the US, you have a single stream of income: DVD sales. Secondary goods, like figures, messenger bags, shirts, etc. are largely non-existent here, and manga and light novel sales go to different companies. So there's a very limited way to capitalize on the fanbase.

Think streaming media or any sort of digital distribution will come to save anime? Fat chance -- it's not even a savior in Hollywood. Recently in Variety, one analyst was quoted as saying " digital isn't a big line item at this point for studios. If it doubled every year it still wouldn't be a big number in five years." The reason why all the companies have digital distribution is to try and reach out to those who refuse to buy discs, in order to placate you somehow. But it's not like that is actually going to go far to keep things going.

This is why I, and every company here, stress the importance of buying DVDs. If you enjoy something, this is really the only way to show your support. When the product is first released, it may not be the perfect version, but using any of those arguments such as "I want it in HD," or "I won't buy it because it does/doesn't have a dub" are simply straw man arguments. If you don't buy it, then it won't ever come out in HD, or it won't come out as you want it because it didn't make enough money to justify it.

With Nippon Ichi's upcoming release of Toradora!, that show had better sell through the roof, otherwise it'll just prove my point that things are broken. It has a huge following. Nippon Ichi is doing right by the fans with a worthwhile package. They're hedging their bets by forgoing a dub. There is no reason why you shouldn't buy this day one if you've already seen it. Because if you don't, that would simply end Nippon Ichi's venture into anime. Naturally, the sales of their first two titles are going to bankroll any future ventures into anime, and if Toradora! doesn't sell, since it's clearly the leader over Persona Trinity Soul, then we'll be out of luck for Nippon Ichi making its way in -- and probably most other US companies, because they saw what should have been a successful business model fail.

"So what? Screw those money-grubbing American import companies. I'll still enjoy myself at cons." Take a look at most major cons. Otakon, Anime Expo, etc. If you look at their sponsors, you'll often see a handful of publishers, along with ANN, up in the top tier of sponsorship. They put out a lot of money to prop up these events. They spend even more to set up key booths at the dealer's room. If all that support got pulled out? We'd see a pretty big change in what the convention scene would look like.

My point is this: unlike many other areas of entertainment, anime only has a single entry point. Anything that you do besides buying the DVDs of shows that you watched isn't supporting the product, the fandom, or the industry both here and abroad. As the animation industry itself shrinks, foreign revenue becomes increasingly important to the companies over in Japan. If the market collapses here, it's going to be a forerunner to what will happen in Japan. The canary in the coal mines, so to say.

The US anime companies have offered up olive branches, simulcasting shows, putting shows in their entirety on YouTube and Hulu and offering digital downloads. They've done all that's feasible, going a step further than even what the TV industry is offering. They're already at their limit. Now it's up to you to do your part.

Japan, meanwhile, needs a complete re-working of their system in order to make the anime industry healthy again. That is an issue for another post, though.


The cost corollary

Many of you have complained about the cost of anime here in the US as a reason why you don't buy anime. First off, let me quote Chris Beveridge, who frequently reminds us, "Anime is a privilege, not a right." Downloading anime because you cannot afford it means that you are unable to live within your means. Anime is not required for you to continue living a life day-to-day, so you are simply saying that you refuse to budget your money properly, work harder in order to get what you want, and instead resort to stealing in order to entertain yourself.

There are no two ways about it.

Realize that the costs of anime have come down dramatically over time. Just within the lifespan of DVDs, they used to be $30 for 3-4 episodes on a disc. Now you pay $40 MSRP in order to acquire three times as much on a half-season box. Anime distributors have cut packaging costs and their own margins in order to keep fans happy and try and keep their products on store shelves. Beyond that, if you actually look at pricing for DVDs at most retailers, they're further discounted. $23.99 for 13 episodes of Gintama, the week of release. 52 episodes of School Rumble, plus the OVA, for $45. Nana box sets for $35. FUNimation's entire SAVE line.

These shows are easily affordable. They've fallen very closely in line with American television programs, which has often been the comparison for DVD pricing. Look back to my point about how anime has a single point of entry for cashflow here in the US. With American television, the shows are made profitable by the commercials aired during original broadcast, the syndication rights, and other deals. DVD sales, while a large part of the profit for a program, are solely icing on the cake. The few number of shows that do make it onto TV? FUNimation or Bandai usually pay Adult Swim or Sci-Fi channel in order to broadcast them. It's simply a promotional tool.

The argument that discs are too expensive have been around since, well, the existence of DVDs. Prices have continually dropped, but the argument seems to persist, almost illogically. More episodes have been added to fewer discs. The prices have been brought within spitting distance of American TV shows. There is no reason to download these programs.

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Brad Rice
Brad RiceFounder   gamer profile

Brad helped found in 2006, and currently serves as an Associate He's covered all aspects of the industry, but has a particular preference for the business-end of things, more + disclosures



Filed under... #anime #Industy affairs #Japanator Original #top stories



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